Hickey & Boggs (1972, directed by Robert Culp)


Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) are two private investigators who are constantly in danger of losing their licenses and going out of business.  Hickey is the responsible one.  Boggs is the seedy alcoholic.  When Hickey and Boggs are hired to track down a missing woman, their investigation lands them in the middle of a war between the mob and a group of political activists who are fighting over who is going to get the loot from a recent robbery.  Hickey and Boggs are targeted by the mob and soon, everyone is dying around them.

With its cynical themes and downbeat ending, Hickey & Boggs is very much a 70s film.  The script was written by future director Walter Hill and when it was eventually offered to Bill Cosby, Cosby agreed to star on the condition that his I Spy co-star, Robert Culp, be hired to direct.  Producer John Calley hired Culp but after Calley refused to provide the budget that Culp requested, Culp bought the script and raised the money himself.

There are a few problems with Hickey & Boggs, the main one being that the plot is next to impossible to follow.  As a director, Robert Culp apparently didn’t believe in either filming coverage or providing establishment shots so, especially early on, it is often impossible to tell how one scene is connected to another or even how much time has passed between scenes.  I don’t know if this was an intentional aesthetic decision or if the production just ran out of money before everything could be shot but it makes it difficult to get into the film’s already complicated story.  On a positive note, Culp did have a flair for staging action scenes.  The film ends with a shoot out on the beach that’s is handled with such skill that it almost makes up for what came before it.  Also, like many actors-turned-director, Culp proved himself capable of spotting talent.  Along with giving early roles to Vincent Gardenia, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, Culp also took the chance of casting sitcom mainstay Robert Mandan as a villain.  It was a risk but it worked as Mandan convincingly portrays the banality of evil.

Of course, the biggest problem with Hickey & Boggs is that it stars Bill Cosby as a straight-laced hero and that’s no longer a role that anyone’s willing to believe him in.  Cosby actually does give a convincing dramatic performance in Hickey & Boggs.  Just look at the final scene on the beach where Hickey has his “what have we done” moment and shows the type of regret that Cosby has never shown in real life.  The problem is that to really appreciate Cosby’s performance, you have to find a way to overlook the fact that he’s Bill Cosby and that something that I found impossible to do while watching Hickey & Boggs.  When you should be getting into the movie, you’re thinking about how many decades Bill Cosby was able to get away with drugging and assaulting women.  If not for a comment from Hannibal Buress that led to a social media uproar, Cosby would probably still be getting away with it.  If Buress’s anti-Cosby comments hadn’t been recorded and hadn’t gone viral, Bill Cosby would still be free and the media would probably still be holding him up as some sort of role model.

At the time Hickey & Boggs was made, both Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were at a career crossroads.  Cosby was hoping to transform himself into a film star.  Culp was hoping to become a director.  Hickey & Boggs, however, was disliked by critics and flopped at the box office.  Culp never directed another film and we all know what happened with Bill Cosby.  (Of course, it wasn’t just the box office failure of Hickey & Boggs that kept Cosby from becoming a movie star.  Say what you will about Robert Culp as a director, he had nothing to do with Leonard Part 6.)  Hickey  & Boggs is too disjointed to really work but Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were convincing action stars and the film’s downbeat style and cynical worldview is sometimes interesting.

A Cry For Help (1975, directed by Daryl Duke)


Harry Freeman (Robert Culp) is a radio talk show host in California who specializes in abusing his listeners.  They call in and they tell Harry their problems and their opinions and then Harry tells them that they’re stupid and whiny.  Despite (or maybe because of) his abrasive style, Harry is very popular.  Everyone on the California coast listens to him in the morning.

When a depressed teenage girl named Ingrid (Elayne Heilveil) calls his show and says that she’s going to kill herself, Harry doesn’t taker her seriously and tells her to go ahead and do it.  It’s only after he hangs up on her that he realizes that she might have actually been telling the truth.  When Harry calls the cops to tell them about the call, they treat him in much the same way that he treated Ingrid.  They refuse to take him or Ingrid seriously.

Not getting any help from the police, Harry turns to his listeners.  He asks them to help him track down Ingrid and to keep her from harming herself.  The film alternates between scenes of Ingrid meeting people throughout the day and then Harry in his studio, taking calls from those people.  Since Ingrid is no longer listening to Harry’s show, she has no idea that people are looking for her and it becomes a race against time to find her before she carries out her plans.

A Cry For Help is largely a showcase for Robert Culp, a talented actor whose career was often harmed by his own independence and reputation for being abrasive.  That reputation made him the perfect choice to play Harry and Culp gives a terrific performance as a not particularly nice man trying to do the right thing for once.  Interestingly, the film keeps it ambiguous as to whether Harry has really had an attack of conscience or if he’s just trying to save Ingrid for the publicity and the ratings.  Even at the end of the film, it’s hard to know if Harry was really worried about Ingrid ending her life or if he was just looking to promote himself.

Along with Culp, the film’s cast is a who’s who of 70s television actors.  Among those who Ingrid and Harry deal with during the day: Michael Lerner, Bruce Boxlietner, Ken Swofford, Chuck McCann, Julius Harris, and Gordon Jump.  Seeing Jump in the film was especially interesting since he would later star in another production about the potential power of radio, WKRP In Cincinnati.

A Cry For Help is a suspenseful made-for-TV movie from 1975.  It’s never been released on DVD but it is on YouTube.

The Gladiator (1986, directed by Abel Ferrara)


A serial killer known as The Skull is prowling the dark streets of Los Angeles.  Driving a customized death car, he chases down other motorists and forces them into fatal accidents.  Though the police aren’t convinced that the Skull’s real, Rick Benton (Ken Wahl) knows that he’s out there.  Rick was teaching his younger brother (Brian Robbins) how to drive when the Skull chased them down and ran them off the road.  His brother was killed.  Rick spent several days in a coma.  Even after the police try to convince him that he was the victim of a drunk driver, Rick suspects that he and his brother were deliberately targeted.

Rick is a car guy, himself.  After attending a support group for people who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, Rick decides to take the law into his own hands.  He modifies his pickup truck and then takes to the streets, tracking down drunk drivers and ramming them off of the road.  He then calls the police, letting them know where they can pick up the drunks.  Rick is careful to never actually hurt anyone but Lt. Frank Mason (Robert Culp) still isn’t happy that there’s a vigilante out there, taking the law into his own hands.

With all of Los Angeles wondering about the identity of the vigilante that the media has dubbed “The Gladaitor,” Rick prepares to track down the Skull.

The Gladiator was directed by Abel Ferrara, who brings his trademark style to the film.  Rick is not just a vigilante with a super truck.  He’s also a man who is clearly still in mourning and who deals with his own feelings of guilt by tracking down unsafe drivers.  When he realizes that someone is deliberately killing other drivers, he becomes grimly obsessed with tracking down the Skull and, in typical Ferrara fashion, it often seems as if his quest for vengeance might leave him as unhinged as the man he’s trying to stop.  Though Rick is clearly the fim’s hero and all of the drunks that he stops are obnoxious and deserving of what they get, Ferrara doesn’t blindly celebrate Rick’s actions.  Some of the people who treat the Gladiator as a folk hero are just as dangerous as the ones that Rick is taking off the streets.

It helps the film that both the Skull’s death car and Rick’s vigilante pickup are pretty cool.  Who wouldn’t want to own a truck that can fire projectiles at bad drivers?  In typical Ferrara fashion, almost all of the action takes place at night and the chase scenes are excitingly filmed.  Though the cars and the stunts may be the main reason to watch the film, Ken Wahl still does a good job with the title role and fans of Brian DePalma and RoboCop will enjoy the presence of Nancy Allen, cast here as a radio talk show host who is also Rick’s girlfriend.

The Gladiator is an effective car chase thriller.  Watch it and drive safely.

Most Wanted (1997, directed by David Hogan)


James Dunn (Keenan Ivory Wayans) is an army sergeant with a talent for getting framed for crimes that he didn’t commit.

During the Gulf War, Dunn’s superior officer orders Dunn to shoot a shepherd boy.  Dunn refuses and, when the two men get into a fight over a gun, his commanding officer is accidentally shot and killed.  The army refuses to listen to Dunn’s explanation.  He’s convinced of murder and sentenced to death.  However, while Dunn is on his way to Leavenworth, he is rescued by Col. Casey (Jon Voight).  Casey explains that he is giving Dunn a chance to join a super secret vigilante group that targets evil doers.  Yes, Dunn will be expected to assassinate people but they’ll all be bad.  With no other options available to him, Dunn agrees to work for Casey.

Dunn’s first target is the corrupt owner of a pharmaceutical company (played by Robert Culp) but — surprise — it turns out that the target was actually the First Lady and that the entire plan was to set up Dunn as a patsy!  Now a “most wanted” fugitive, Dunn is forced to go on the run with a doctor (Jill Hennessy) who recorded the assassination with a camcorder.  (Remember, Most Wanted was made during the days of the landline phones.)  With Casey and his second-in-command (played by Wolfgang Bodison) determined to kill him and with only Paul Sorvino (as the head of the FBI) doubting the official story, Dunn has to find a way to reveal the truth.

Though he was subsequently overshadowed by his brothers, Damon and Marlon, Keenan Ivory Wayans was a really big deal in the 90s.  As the man behind In Living Color, he proved that black comedians and writers could be just as funny (and, in many cases, funnier) than their white counterparts over at Saturday Night Live.  It can be argued Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Alan Grier, and Jennifer Lopez would not have the careers that they have today if not for Keenan Ivory Wayans.  (All of them first found fame as members of the In Living Color ensemble, Carrey, Foxx, and Grier as cast members and Lopez as a “fly girl.”)  Most Wanted was Wayans attempt to transform himself into an action hero (perhaps not coincidentally, a year before Most Wanted was released, Damon Wayans had a minor hit with Bulletproof).

Keenan Ivory Wayans not only starred in Most Wanted but he also wrote the script and it’s interesting just how straight the action is played.  It would be natural to expect Wayans to turn the movie into a spoof but there’s little intentional humor to be found in Most Wanted.  Most Wanted takes itself seriously and the end result is an adequate but hardly memorable action movie, with Wayans jumping off of buildings and fighting off the bad guys.  The action scenes are well-shot if not particularly imaginative but, unfortunately, Wayans doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to be a believable action hero.  Both the character of James Dunn and Wayans’s performance are just too bland to really be compelling.  Far more interesting are Jon Voight and Paul Sorvino, who are both entertainingly hammy in their roles.

There’s one good scene in Most Wanted, where Dunn finds himself being chased by what appears to be the entire population of Los Angeles.  Otherwise, this one is adequate but forgettable.

 

An Olympic Film Review: Goldengirl (dir by Joseph Sargent)


The 1979 film Goldengirl is a film that I had wanted to see ever since I first came across this trailer on one of the 42nd Street Forever compilation DVDs:

Wow, I wondered.  What was Goldengirl’s secret and why was she ordering James Coburn to kiss her feet?  For that matter, why did James Coburn have a haircut that made him look exactly like this old lady who used to live next door to my grandma in Fort Smith?  What did it all have to do with the villain from The Spy Who Loved Me and just how drunk was Robert Culp when he shot his scenes?  Even more importantly, why did Goldengirl keep running into that wall?  That looked painful!

I did some research.  (That’s a fancy way of saying that I looked the movie up on Wikipedia.)  I discovered that Goldengirl was made in 1979.  It was originally meant to be a television miniseries that would not only air during the 1980 Summer Olympics but which would feature Goldengirl competing at those Olympics!  However, during production, it was decided to just use the material for a feature film instead. (Hmmmm, I thought, behind-the-scenes drama!  Intriguing!)  The film was released in June of ’79 and, despite one rave review from Vincent Canby in the New York Times, the film failed at the box office.  Add to that, the U.S. ultimately boycotted the 1980 summer games, which made Goldengirl‘s Olympic-set climax a bit awkward.

I also discovered that Goldengirl is nearly impossible to see.  It’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray or any digital or streaming service.  So, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never see Goldengirl and, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really didn’t care that much.

However, for the past few days, I have been absolutely obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Even though it was a Summer Olympic movie, I decided to go on YouTube and see if anyone had uploaded Goldengirl since I last checked.

And guess what?

They had!

Now, here’s the problem.  The two guys who uploaded Goldengirl also talked over the entire movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  The movie looked about as good as a VHS copy of a movie from 1979 is ever going to look.  And I could still follow Goldengirl‘s story, even if I sometimes had to really strain to hear the dialogue over the two guys “commenting” on it.  Still, it meant that I had to put a bit more effort into watching this movie than it perhaps deserved.  It was kinda hard not to resent that.

Anyway, I have finally seen Goldengirl and I can now tell you that it’s a pretty lousy movie.  Goldengirl is Goldine (Susan Anton).  Her father is a German scientist who used to work for the Nazis.  When he came to the United States, he decided to prove that his theories of eugenics were correct by adopting a daughter and breeding her to be the world’s greatest athlete.  Working with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee (Leslie Caron, for some reason), they have not only turned Goldine into the world’s greatest athlete but they’ve also turned her into a bright, smiling media personality.  (Dr. Lee has trained Goldine, through the use of a vibrator, to always give the right answer when she’s asked a question.)  Now, they just need Goldine to win three gold medals at the Summer Olympics and for PR agent Jack Dryden (James Coburn) to make Goldine into a star.  Dryden is the only person who really cares about Goldine as something other than an experiment or a way to make money.

Goldine spends almost the entire movie running.  There’s one running montage that seems to go on forever.  Susan Anton was a model when she was cast as Goldine.  She’s got the right look to be a celebrity but she’s never convincing as an Olympic-class athlete.  Whenever Goldine competes, we either get a close-up of Anton running in slow-motion with no other runners around her or else a long-shot that’s designed to keep us from noticing that Anton isn’t really on the track.

Really, that’s entire film.  On the basis of the trailer, I was expecting that Goldengirl would turn out to be a robot or something like that.  Instead, it just turns out that her stepfather has spent years injecting her with vitamins and hormones and now, as a result, she has diabetes.  Seriously, that’s it.  She gets pretty mad when she finds out that her handlers have put her health at risk just so she could win a race.  But then she goes ahead and runs the race anyway so I guess it was all for the best.  Seriously, that’s the entire freaking movie.  It doesn’t help that Anton’s acting is amateurish and the rest of the cast seems bored.  Only Curt Jurgens really makes much of an impression, mostly because he’s too sinister not to be memorable.

The trailer is better than the movie.  That’s the secret of Goldengirl.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: A Name For Evil (dir by Bernard Girard)


So, this is an odd one.

First released in 1973 but reportedly filmed several years before, A Name For Evil tells the story of John Blake (Robert Culp) and his wife, Joanna (Samantha Eggar).  John is a successful architect who lives in the big city.  He used to be a passionate rebel but now he’s just a boring corporate man.  Even his wife is bored with him.  John knows that he has to make some changes.  Since this movie was made in 1973, those changes start with throwing a TV out of a window.

(Trust me.  If you watch enough films from the early 70s, you will see so many TVs get tossed through so many windows that it will no longer surprise you.  Apparently, being a rebel in 1973 meant destroying a TV.  According to Wikipedia, the top five TV shows in 1973 were, in order, All In The Family, Sanford and Son, Hawaii 5-0, Maude, and the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie.  I choose to believe that the NBC Saturday Night Mystery Movie is what drove everyone over the edge.  Anyway…)

Anyway, John decides to quit his high-paying job and instead move up to New England and live in his grandfather’s mansion.  (His grandfather, by the way, was known as The Major.)  Joanna is reluctant to accompany him and she’s even more upset when it turns out that 1) the house is a total wreck and 2) the last tenant died under mysterious circumstances.

John, however, grows somewhat obsessed with the house.  This is despite the fact that John doesn’t seem to really like the house or the inhabitants of the nearby town that much.  For instance, there’s a scene — which might be a dream — in which John crashes the funeral of a local boy who died in Vietnam and he starts to laugh uncontrollably when the minister praises the boy for sacrificing himself for his country.  I think we’re supposed to like John during this scene but John laughs so long and so hard and he just keeps going and going that, by the end of it, I think even the most dedicated peace activist would look at him and say, “What an asshole.”

At the house, John keeps seeing strange shadows and hearing weird noises.  Occasionally, he sees someone who looks like the long-dead Major riding a white horse.  He hears voices coming from the walls and he accuses Joanna of being behind it.  Joanna tells him that he’s being paranoid.  Of course, Joanna herself is slowly coming to appreciate the house, especially after a ghost kisses her hand…

Suffering from ennui, John does what anyone in 1973 would do.  He tracks down the local hippies and he takes part in a down-with-the-establishment orgy.  Are the hippies real or are they figments of his imagination?  Is the house real or is it a figment of John’s imagination?  Is John real or is he just a figment of his imagination?  A Name For Evil does not seem to really know but you can be sure that we’ll get another shot of that TV falling out of that window before the movie ends.

On the one hand, A Name For Evil is a standard haunted house/spiritual possession type of film.  But, on the other hand, it’s obvious that A Name For Evil was trying to make some sort of grand statement about life in America in 1973.  How else do you explain the hippies, the funeral scene, and that TV flying out the window?  Robert Culp spends the entire movie so pissed off that there’s no way he wasn’t meant to be some sort of generational spokesman.  It makes for a very strange, only-in-the-70s hybrid type of film.

Now, I should mention that I actually did a little research before writing this review.  I discovered that A Name for Evil was originally produced by MGM but it spent years on the shelf until Penthouse (the magazine) bought the film and re-cut it for theatrical release.  Apparently, the first version was clear about being an attempt at social satire with a little horror and nudity thrown in.  The version that was actually released was edited to emphasize the horror and the nudity.  That probably explains why the film feels like such a strange mishmash of genres and attitudes.

If you ever get the chance, I’d recommend watching A Name For Evil.  It’s not that good but it’s just too strange not to watch.

 

A Movie A Day #199: Timebomb (1991, directed by Avi Nesher)


Recall Total Recall?

If you do, Timebomb will seem very familiar.

Michael Biehn is a mild-mannered watchmaker who surprises himself when he fearlessly rushes into a burning building and saves a mother and her baby.  After he shows up on the evening news and is hailed as being a hero, he is attacked by an assassin (martial arts legend Billy Blanks) and discovers that he instinctively know how to defend himself.  When he starts having disturbing nightmares and strange flashbacks, he sees a psychiatrist (Patsy Kensit).  They discover that Biehn’s problems go back to when he was a part of a military brainwashing experiment.  The man behind the experiment (Richard Jordan) now wants Biehn dead.  Pursued by another brainwashed assassin (Tracy Scoggins), Biehn and Kensit go on the run.

Like many action movies from the early 90s, Timebomb has an extremely cool premise but lacks the budget necessary to make the most of it.  After a good start and some surreal moments (including a scene where Biehn and Kensit visit the lab where Biehn was “created”), Timebomb ends up just being another shoot ’em up.

Luckily, Timebomb has a really good cast.  Richard Jordan is an effective villain and old pro Robert Culp has a small role as one of Jordan’s collaborators.  The always underrated Michael Biehn is a great hero, precisely because he’s not some huge, indestructible guy.  He’s not Stallone or Schwarzenegger or even Jean-Claude Van Damme.  (Timebomb was originally envisioned as a Van Damme vehicle.)  In Timebomb, Michael Biehn is the everyman action hero.  Plus, any movie that features Tracy Scoggins as a gun-toting assassin is going to be worth watching.

“It’s A Shame To Get It Shot Full Of Holes.” Hannie Caulder (1971, directed by Burt Kennedy)


hannie-posterA century before Beatrix Kiddo killed Bill and The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, there was Hannie Caulder.

Hannie Caulder (played by Raquel Welch) lives at a horse station on the Texas/Mexico border.  When the outlaw Clemmons brothers — Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) — arrive at the station following a disastrous bank robbery, they brutally murder her husband and take turns raping her.  After setting the station on fire, the Clemmons Brothers leave Hannie for dead.

What they do not realize is that Hannie has managed to crawl out of the burning building.  The next day, when a bounty hunter named Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) approached the burned out remains of the station, Hannie begs him to teach her how to shoot a gun.

“If I taught you the gun,” Tom says, “you’d go out and get your ass shot off!”

“It’s my ass!” Hannie replies.

“It’s a shame to get it shot full of holes,” Tom says, “It’s as pretty a one as I’ve ever seen.”

Tom refuses to teacher her how to handle a gun but he does allow her to ride with him.  Before she mounts Tom’s second horse, Hannie sees that there is a body lying across the saddle.  “I hope you don’t mind riding with a dead man,” Tom says.

After Tom realizes that she was raped, he agrees to her how to shoot.  But first, he takes her into Mexico to meet a former Confederate gunsmith named Bailey so that Bailey can make her a gun.  Bailey is played by Christopher Lee.  In a career that spanned 70 years, Hannie Caulder was the only Western that Christopher Lee ever appeared in.  At first, it’s strange to see Christopher Lee in a Western, using his Winchester rifle to gun down a group of bandits who threaten his family.  But Lee is a natural and eventually, you stop seeing him as Dracula in a western and you just see him as Bailey.

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As Bailey and Tom watch Hannie practice her shooting, Bailey says, “Fine-looking woman.”

“She wants to be a man,” Tom responds.

Bailey nods.  “She’ll never make it.”

As an actress, Raquel Welch was often miscast in roles that were only meant to highlight her looks.  She was always at her best when she played tough characters who were not afraid to fight and Hannie is one of her toughest.  While the film certainly takes advantage of her appearance (she spends a good deal of it wearing nothing but a poncho), Welch also gives one of her best performances.  Even with Culp, Borgnine, Elam, and Martin acting up a storm, she more than holds her own.  She not only looks good with a gun but she knows how to use it too.

Though the film was obviously influenced by the violent Spaghetti westerns that were coming out of Italy at the time, Hannie Caulder was directed by Hollywood veteran Burt Kennedy.  Kennedy was best known for comedic westerns like Support Your Local Sheriff  and Hannie Caulder awkwardly mixes drama with comedy.  Scenes of the Clemmons Brothers bickering and grizzled old west types doing a double take whenever Hannie walks by are mixed with Peckinpah-style violence and flashbacks of Hannie being raped.  If the film had a director more suited to the material, it could have been a classic but under Kennedy’s direction, the end result is uneven but always watchable.

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